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Darwin's Blind Spot: Evolution Beyond Natural Selection Hardcover – December 16, 2002

4.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ryan (Virus X), a British physician, attempts to find a common explanation for much in our natural world. Ranging widely from the origin of life to the creation of human civilization and from the origin of sex to the root causes of many mental illnesses, Ryan turns to symbiosis ("an association between different species that persists for a long period") as the natural force responsible for all of this and much more. Additionally, he claims that Darwin and most modern-day "neo-Darwinists" ignore this basic premise of nature. Although there is some interesting information presented-particularly the possibility of diverse genomes interacting directly with one another through viral and bacterial intermediaries-the book's lack of biological and ecological sophistication greatly hampers its argument. Ryan's premise that "today all too many scientists assume that natural selection is the only mechanism of evolution," for example, is overstated. The concept of symbiosis is not nearly as novel as Ryan would have readers believe, and the modern view of evolution-and Darwin's original view as well-is a great deal more complex and interesting than Ryan portrays.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

It is a tribute to the genius of Darwinian theory that nearly 150 years after the publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, it simultaneously survives in its essence and yet stimulates ongoing debate and new research. Physician Ryan (The Forgotten Plague; Virus X) focuses on a biological mechanism that Darwin and others, who stressed competition as the driving force of evolution, might have underestimated: symbiosis. Part 1 reviews the history of evolutionary theory, from the perspective of those who regard symbiosis as a vital agent for speciation. Even informed readers well versed in the literature will find new material in this discussion. Perhaps more daring, though, is Part 2, in which the author synthesizes a large volume of current thought, mixes it with his own ideas, and proposes novel theories about such unsettled issues as the origin of life on Earth and the critical roles of bacteria and viruses in evolution. Ryan covers a lot of territory-some of it considered suspect by many evolutionary biologists-but his assertions merit serious attention. For academic and larger public library science collections.
--Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (December 16, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618118128
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618118120
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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I received a PhD at Cornell Univ. in 1971, in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, with a minor in Population Genetics. For most of the succeeding 30 years, though, I have not worked in the field of biology. This book was like taking a new Master's Degree to update the last few decades. Ryan is clear, exhaustive in presenting new data and the development of a new paradigm; the book is well footnoted and thoughtful. His thesis that symbiosis is as important as mutation in the mechanisms of evolution, especially speciation and saltation (major jumps) is very well supported by the data he presents. Although the body of the book is focused on the biological data and its meaning, the author doesn't stop there. The argument also connects sociological, spiritual, environmental and political consequences of evolutionary theory--eugenics and Social Darwinism to Gaia, the world ecosystem, and the need to conserve the biological resources of the earth; and ends with an appeal for the need for awe before this mystery. Excellent and indispensable!
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Format: Hardcover
What Frank Ryan demonstrates in this book is that evolution by symbiosis has been a "blind spot" for evolutionists since the time of Darwin, and even today is greatly underestimated by the Darwinian establishment as a force in evolutionary change, especially in speciation.

Ryan, who is an expert on viruses having penned such well-received books as Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues and The Forgotten Plague, begins with some interesting history from Darwin's time showing that Darwin did not (and could not, to be fair) appreciate the role symbiosis plays in evolution. Indeed Ryan demonstrates that the process of symbiosis, and its sister processes, parasitism, mutualism and disease, itself has been misunderstood. A relationship between species may begin as parasitism (or disease) and eventually evolve into a symbiosis. This experience between species has been going on since before there were multi-cellular organisms, and is a feature of every species in existence. All species interact with some other species in symbiosis.

This central realization of the book leads to something like a new way of looking at evolution. Natural selection is still a factor, but not necessarily the major factor anymore. This is implied in the discovery not too many years ago that the mitochondria that inhabit the cells in our body are almost certainly the remnants of a once free-living bacterium that, long ago in the primeval soup or near an undersea volcanic caldron, entered a cell and stayed. We are then the product of symbiosis, which may have begun as one cell invading the other, and over the eons turned into a domestic living arrangement with the invading cell providing power to the larger cell as that cell protects and feeds the symbiont that is now earning its keep.
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Format: Hardcover
After the emergence of the first examples of prokaryote life, it had been thought that bacteria competed among themselves. That is, if we could intervene into the life of a bacterium and ask the little fellow: What is it that you are doing? What is this imperative that you hold? We would expect the answer that the bacterium holds challenge and necessity. And based on all outward signs it looks as if the bacterium must compete for its survival because of some egocentric imperative. Otherwise, the bacterium can just go on strike and there would be no surviving bacteria to direct such questions to, and we would not be here to ask such questions because our own survival depends upon the success of bacteria.

The bacterium is not an isolated unit onto itself. There is also everything else that makes up the biosphere and beyond. Is this imperative that the bacterium holds based on challenge and necessity of the individual cell? Or is it the empathetic wish of the biosphere to nurture the communities of prokaryote life and more? Is it the many, or the one? If it is our attention to avoid homomorphism, it must be that we cannot answer these questions. Therefore, the imperatives that life holds comes with two sides that are formally indistinguishable. Incidently, judging imperatives relates to the same confusion that Huw Price (see Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point) described regarding the perceived passage on time - a very important observation. Does time unfold by the thermodynamic arrow as energies degrade into states of maximum entropy? Or is this just an issue of perspective as it is just as plausible for low energy states to unit into more ordered states?
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Format: Hardcover
There is a spectacular denizen of California tidepools that goes by the imposing name of Hermissenda crassicornis. It is an electric blue and orange sea slug with wavy appendages on its back called ceratae. At the white tips of these ceratae are cellular structures called cnidosacs. Housed in the cnidosacs are nematocysts, microscopic harpoons that hook and inject venom into the mouth of any fish that decides to make a meal of Hermissenda. The truly amazing thing about the nematocysts of this Aeolid is their origin. Hermissendas do not grow their own nematocysts; they obtain them from their prey, in this case, the Proliferating Anemone. Instead of digesting the nematocysts along with their surrounding tissues, Hermissendas sequester them and transport them out to the tips of their ceratae via perpendicular tubes that line their guts called diverticulae. There they are incorporated into Hermissenda's metabolism whole and fully functioning. It is a case of an intracellular symbiotic association called kleptoplasty.
Another example of the "theft of body" of an intact organelle is the so-called "solar powered leaves that crawl." The marine sea slug, Elysia chlorotica, sequesters the chloroplasts of the algae Vaucheria litorea. These kleptoplasts reside within the cytoplasm of the digestive cells of Elysia and carry out photosynthesis. The sea slug provides carbon dioxide for the chloroplasts and the chloroplasts provide nutrients for the sea slug. It is possible that there is a redirecting of animal nuclear encoded proteins to the chloroplasts as well as some lateral gene transfer from algae to sea slug. If so, this example of symbiosis represents a true mixing of separate genomes.
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